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Bayley, Barrington J

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1937-2008) UK author, active as a freelance under various names in the first decades of his career, author of juvenile stories, picture-strips and features as well as sf, which he began to publish with "Combat's End" for Vargo Statten Science Fiction Magazine #4 in 1954, where his name was given as J Barrington Bayley. His sf pseudonyms included P F Woods (at least ten stories), Alan Aumbry (one story), John Diamond (one story), and (with Michael Moorcock) Michael Barrington (one story). Another collaboration with Moorcock was published as by Moorcock alone: "Flux" (July 1963 New Worlds). For the UK Comic Valiant Bayley wrote a series of 1960s text stories featuring the Scientist/Superhero Jason Hyde, whose powers include x-ray vision and Telepathy; these were collected posthumously as The Astounding Jason Hyde (coll 2022).

Some early tales appear in The Seed of Evil (coll 1979), a retrospective assembled to honour that early work. All his sf novels were published under his own name, beginning with Star Virus (May/June 1964 New Worlds; exp 1970 dos). This complex and somewhat gloomy space epic, along with some of its successors, had a strong though not broadly recognized influence on such UK sf writers as M John Harrison. Perhaps because Bayley's style is sometimes laboured and his lack of cheerful endings is alien to the expectations of readers of conventional Space Opera, he never received due recognition for the hard-edged control he exercised over plots whose intricate dealings in Time Paradoxes and insistent metaphysical drive make them some of the most formidable works of their type. Though Annihilation Factor (November/December 1964 New Worlds as "The Patch" as by Peter Woods; exp 1972 dos), Empire of Two Worlds (1972) and Collision Course (1973; vt Collision with Chronos 1977) – which utilizes the time theories of J W Dunne – are all variously successful, probably his most fully realized Time-Paradox or Time Police space opera is The Fall of Chronopolis (1974), in which the Chronotic Empire jousts against a terrifying adversary in doomed attempts to maintain a stable reality; at the crux of the book it becomes evident that the conflict is eternal, and that the same forces will oppose one another through time forever (see also Alternate History; Time Opera).

The Robot Jasperodus series – comprising Soul of the Robot (1974; rev vt The Soul of the Robot 1976) and The Rod of Light (1985) – marked a change of pace in its treatment of such Robot themes as the nature of consciousness and self-awareness; the overall tale makes complex play with a number of philosophical Paradoxes, though Bayley's touch here is uncharacteristically light, approaching though not matching the surreal "lightness" achieved by John T Sladek in his own robot novels. The Garments of Caean (1976; text restored 1978) utilizes some fairly sophisticated cultural Anthropology in a space-opera tale of sentient clothing which owns the man. But perhaps the most significant work Bayley produced in the 1970s was in short fiction, most of it collected in The Knights of the Limits (coll 1978), a remarkable (though astonishingly bleak) assembly of experiments in the carrying of story ideas to the end of their tether; much of his later fiction (at least twenty further stories) appeared in Interzone and remains uncollected. Later space operas – The Grand Wheel (1977) (see Psi Powers), Star Winds (1978) (see Hornblower in Space), The Pillars of Eternity (1982), The Zen Gun (1983) – whose titular weapon is among the strangest in sf (see Rays) – The Forest of Peldain (1985), The Sinners of Erspia (2002) and The Great Hydration (2005) – continued to take an orrery joy in the galaxies.

Bayley continues to be seriously underestimated, perhaps because of his almost total restriction to Pulp formats; but his following, though not large, remained intensely loyal until the end of his life and beyond. His work has also been appreciated in Japan, where he won the Seiun Award for best foreign language novel three times, with The Garments of Caean in 1984, The Zen Gun in 1985 and the belatedly translated Collision Course in 1990. [JC]

see also: Arts; Cosmology; Cyborgs; Economics; End of Time; Eschatology; Evolution; Galactic Empires; Hive Minds; Media Landscape; Metaphysics; Music; New Wave; New Worlds.

Barrington John Bayley

born Birmingham, England: 9 April 1937

died Shrewsbury, Shropshire: 13 October 2008



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